Songkran was the official New Year in Thailand up until 1888, and then the cabinet of ministers decided to shift the date to April 1, a more convenient date as it is the first date of the month. This was followed till 1940, and ever since then, Thai’s official new year is January 1st, to be in line with the international calendar. Yet, the significant festival remained a national holiday.
Songkran Festival begins on the day Sun transits from Pieces to Aries, and Aries marks the beginning of a new year in many calendars.
On any other day, if you’re in Thailand it’s probably for the amazing weather or the nightlife or the many many Buddhist temples the place has to offer. The country is always buzzing with some sort of activity, and it always has visitors from different places in the world. It is a diverse country that has a western flavor to its original Asian roots. It’s exciting to be in a place like Thailand.
It’s one of the most popular holiday spots in the world for a reason. But, there’s an altogether wonderful experience like never before if you can visit the country during the second week of April. Essentially between April 13 to April 15.
In Astronomy, the twelve months we have are shared by 12 astrological signs/constellations, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pieces and the belief is that the Sun, the ruler of all planets for its ability to provide light, would move from one constellation to another, spending around a month in each thereby marking a year.
Songkran Festival Significance
Songkran, the Thai new-year, based on the aforementioned belief, is the most important festival in the country. The word Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word Sankranti which literally means “astrological passage.”
Songkran Festival has many important elements to it, water being the most important. The Songkran Festival is a period when Thai people splash water on themselves, which they believe will cause plenty of rainfall in the coming year.
Water is used to cleanse themselves of those bad things and also a symbol of fertility. This is why, at all important centers of the country, people celebrate Songkran by splashing water on one another. Appreciation of Family is another important element of the festival. Many people would visit their hometowns and spend time with their family members on an auspicious day.
Also Read: Holy Week of Easter
Why is Songkran celebrated?
Songkran is also a major tourist attraction as millions of foreigners from East Asia, America, and UK would visit the country to experience the water festival. Important Buddhist temples at Wan Nao, Chiang Mai, Phuket would be bustling with people as they visit to pray, wash their Buddha statues, building sand Chedi, or just foreigners exploring the sacred places.
According to Buddhist mythology and many Buddhist scriptures at places like Wat Pho, Songkran Festival origins go back to one common story, where a Buddhist deity Kapila Brahma cuts his head off as a clever boy named Thammabai outwits him.
Thammabai is a righteous child and is known for his intellect. A Hindu Deity, Kapila Brahma, gets to about the boy. The godman challenges the child with a question (more of a riddle) and places a bet. The loser of the bet would have to chop his head off. The question of the riddle is: “When is the glory of men located in the morning, during the day, and in the evening?”
The boy is given a week to come up with an answer. For six days, the boy couldn’t figure out the solution. Dejected, he sits under a tree, worrying about his fate. As he’s busy contemplating the possible consequences of his bet, he overhears two eagles discussing their dinner. The conversation is about the loser of the challenge. The eagles, unbeknown to the boy’s presence, discuss the answer. With this knowledge, Thammabai, upon meeting Kapila Brahma, gives the answer. Now, Kapila Brahma must cut his head off.
Before the self-decapitation, the Kapila Brahma summoned his seven daughters. As a deity, if his severed head fell to earth, the fire would engulf the world. If his severed head is in the air, the rain will flood the earth. If his severed head is thrown into the ocean, seawater will dry up. As a solution to this, his eldest daughter, Dungsha Devi, placed his head in a cave on Mount Kailash.
Every year, when the sun enters Aries, to honour their father, they form a procession. The daughters known as Nang Songkran would lead the procession by riding on an animal. Depending upon the day Sun enters Aries, the daughters would perform the procession like, if it’s a Tuesday, Rakshasa Devi will lead the procession by riding on a pig.
On Sunday, it’s the eldest daughter’s turn as she leads the procession on a Garuda. On Monday, Goragha Devi would ride a rides tiger; on Wednesday, Manda Devi rides a Donkey; if it’s Thursday, Kirini Devi rides an elephant. On a Friday, Kimida Devi Buffalo, and on Saturday, Mahodara Devi rides a Peacock. This is the origin story of Songkran.
The next time it’s April 13, let us all just remember Kapila Brahma, Thammabai, and those wonderful daughters of the deity who are performing the purest form of daughterly duties to their father.